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The story behind Justin Tucker's clutch field goals that lifted Ravens over Steelers

The story behind Justin Tucker's clutch field goals that lifted Ravens over Steelers

PITTSBURGH — Mike Tomlin put the pressure on Justin Tucker he even hit the field for overtime. 

The Steelers won the overtime coin toss, but elected to defend the south end zone instead of taking the football. Why? The open south end zone is notoriously difficult to kick toward and Tomlin wanted to pin the Ravens deep. 

His plan nearly worked, too. But after the Ravens defense forced a fumble, and gave Tucker a chance, his 46-yard field goal snuck through the left goal post to give the Ravens a 26-23 overtime win at Heinz Field on Sunday.

“I was a little nervous about the first half of the kick,” Tucker said. “I think it was starting straight at that upright. I know the previous kicks we had going in that direction, at least the longer one just before, had a little bit of a fade to it right at the end of the flight path.”

But Tucker’s kick, which appeared to be hooking left, veered back just enough right to give the Ravens an exhilarating overtime win. 

Tucker, of course, said he had a little help with his kick. 

“My dad sent me a text right after the game saying, ‘I think an Arc Angel might have blown that ball inside the upright, just a little bit,” Tucker said with a smile.

The 46-yard game-winner wasn’t his longest of the day; that was a 48-yard kick with 10 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 23 and push it to overtime. He made two other kicks in regulation, too, to lead the Ravens in scoring.

Tucker’s special afternoon wasn’t just relegated to field goals. The team had excellent kickoff coverage, aided in part due to Tucker’s placement on his kickoffs which pinned the Steelers deep in their own territory. 

It’s another reason why Tomlin chose to kickoff in overtime instead of take the ball. 

“Did you see our kickoff return in this football game?” Tomlin asked. “Did you see their kickoff team? Every time, they put the ball on about the two-yard line and Tucker hung the ball at about 4. 5 seconds, and we couldn’t get back to the 15. Why would I sign up for that?”

The fear that the Steelers had about Tucker gave the Ravens all the more confidence that Tucker would deliver when it mattered. 

He didn’t disappoint, with two field goals at one of the toughest end zones to kick toward in the NFL. 

“I asked [Ravens secondary coach] Chris Hewitt before he kicked it, I was like, ‘Is he going to make it?’” Thomas recalled. “He’s like, ‘Bro, this is the best kicker in the NFL.’ And just like he said, he made it."

If it weren’t for Tucker, who hasn’t missed an extra point or field goal all season, the Ravens could be 2-3 and fighting an uphill battle toward a playoff spot. Now, they’re 3-2 and headed toward a very winnable game against the Bengals next Sunday in Baltimore. 

Tucker’s contributions to the Ravens scoring were the reason for the win. But even the NFL’s top kicker gets nervous for those kicks, even if every one of his teammates isn’t.

“There’s always nerves, butterflies, whatever you want to call it,” Tucker said. “I’d go so far as to say, in the smallest bit of time there, terror.  You can be equal parts nervous, scared, confident, excited. None of it really matters. All that matters is that 1.3 seconds between the snap, the hold and when the ball leaves my foot.”

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Former Ravens Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg denies wanting to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver

Former Ravens Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg denies wanting to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver

According to a report from former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi, former Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wanted to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver. 

Mornhinweg, and the Ravens, claim that’s not true. 

Tuesday morning, Mornhinweg and the Ravens released a statement that claims the conversation Lombardi reported never happened. 

“That didn’t happen,” Mornhinweg responded, according to the release. “Never said that. My thoughts before the draft, and even more when we started working with Lamar, was that this young man was going to be a special quarterback. Very early we saw that along with all of his throwing and escape abilities, he reads the field as well as any young quarterback I ever worked with.”

Mornhinweg, who was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator for three years and with the organization for four, left the organization after last season ended.

The original report from Lombardi, which was on the GM Shuffle podcasts that he hosts, stated that Mornhinweg wanted to move Jackson to wide receiver. 

“Here’s what happened,” Lombardi began. “The first time he (Lamar Jackson) comes in, Marty Mornhinweg — remember, we’re building the team around him — Marty says to the coaches, this is fact, ‘When are we gonna move him to receiver?’”

Lombardi was a scout for the 49ers and Browns before working for the Eagles, Raiders, Browns (for a second time) and the Patriots. He was the general manager and VP of the Browns in 2013-14. He currently works for The Athletic.

“Organizationally, we were on the same page with Lamar, and I thought Ozzie (Newsome) and Eric (DeCosta) did a great job to take him where we did,” coach John Harbaugh added in the release. “Marty was excited from the beginning to coach Lamar and was instrumental in helping him progress through his rookie season.”

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Ravens don't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski returning for the NFL Playoffs

Ravens don't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski returning for the NFL Playoffs

Sitting atop the AFC North and East divisions at 8-2 and 9-1 respectively, the Ravens and Patriots could face each other again in January for either the divisional round or AFC championship.

One thing is for sure -- even if Baltimore has to face the Patriots in Foxborough, the Ravens will not have to worry about crafting a game plan for retired tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The five-time Pro Bowl receiver is guaranteed to be in Miami for Super Bowl LIV, but not to play football -- instead, throwing a party off the field that he calls Gronk Beach.

Gronk told ESPN that a return to playing for the NFL is "always an option in the back of my head. It's not like I'm not staying in shape and not doing anything."

"I wouldn't say 'never coming back,'" Gronk told ESPN after announcing his Gronk Beach festival, that includes performances by Diplo, Kaskade, Rick Ross and Flo Rida. "I'm feeling good, but you know, one year off could possibly be the case. Or maybe two years off, man."

Baltimore already bloodied New England 37-20, handing the Pats their first and only loss of the season thus far when they visited M&T Bank Stadium in Week 9, but both teams should almost certainly anticipate a postseason meeting. Arguably the greatest tight end in league history, Gronk knows his team could use his talents again.

"With the offense, they're finding ways to make it work like they've always done, putting guys in the right situation to make plays," Gronkowski told ESPN about watching the Patriots games closely this season. "But man, they're missing some guy who is 6-6, 260 [pounds]," referencing himself.

Baltimore, you're in the clear this year. But that's all Gronk can guarantee.

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